New web-based therapy programmes aimed at teenagers could be the breakthrough in curbing the country's alarming youth suicide rate, a researcher says.

About one in five teenagers experienced some form of depressive symptom, Dr Shyamala Nada-Raja of Otago University's preventive and social medicine department said.

She was studying the effects of new online web-based therapy programmes, and said they showed "promising results''.

Her research looked at two sites, and - which get the user to complete online evidence-based exercise programmes, such as cognitive behaviour therapy or problem-solving therapy.


The research, was being presented at the Paediatric Society of New Zealand's 65th annual scientific meeting in Dunedin today.

"With New Zealand's high rates of youth suicide, which we've had now unfortunately for a number of years - depression seems to go hand in hand with suicidal behaviour and self-harming behaviour,'' Dr Nada-Raja said.

"We also know that young people are not exactly keen to consult their GP or for that matter, even talk to a councillor at school to talk about any mental health issues. Part of that is probably due to the stigma aspect, which affects adults as well.

"In those cases a web-based therapy can cross that barrier and reduce the stigma.''

While the programmes were private and anonymous, the young person could use it with a support person, parent or health professional, Dr Nada-Raja said.

The programmes gave the user the "confidence'' to learn about what was going on with them.

Dr Nada-Raja said the programmes would not solve the whole problem, but teenagers could feel more comfortable speaking with a mental health professional once completing the online programmes.

"We've got to find a way to reach young people and obviously the conventional ways that we used to use are not necessarily dealing with the problem in the way we would like them to deal with the problem.


"So we need to be using modern technology in an effective way - to reach this particular group of young people.''

Research showed that young people with good communication and trust with their parents were less likely to develop problems associated with depression.

"Keeping communication open to your adolescent is vital and any strategies that can help with that obviously need to be looked at carefully and taken account of.''

Warning signs of an adolescent suffering symptoms of depression were if they were withdrawn, not doing well at school, becoming isolated from their peers or misbehaving, Dr Nada-Raja said.

Early intervention was "critical'' in helping young people, she said.

"The earlier the problem is isolated and managed, the better the outcome for the young person.''


Where to get help

Youth services: (06) 3555 906

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight)

The Word

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (24-hour service)

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.